In a season of thanksgiving, am I the only one who finds it hard to be thankful for all things?
Of course, I have plenty for which I am thankful.

Some are big things – my salvation through Christ, my family, my calling, my colleagues, and food on my plate at mealtime.

Some are smaller things – a wonderful cup of coffee, a great conversation and a stimulating book to read.

These are just personal things, but there are many other things out there in God’s big, wide world for which I’m also grateful.

But it’s hard to be thankful for plummeting temperatures and the first snow flurries of winter being whipped up by strong winds.

It’s hard to feel good at endless political ads cluttering the TV screens in the run-up to an election.

And it’s hard to have any sense of gratitude that someone to whom I’m close tells me a much-loved friend has died, his own health is failing and his future is uncertain.

That’s before we mention ISIS mutilating and murdering people or Ebola robbing more than 10,000 people of their lives.

I can’t answer all the issues about how evil can exist when there is a God of love. I would not dare to try.

But I keep three things in mind when thinking about how to be thankful to God in bad times as well as in good times.

First, I remember that God is good.

I don’t believe Romans 8:28 teaches that all things are good, but I do believe that verse says that in all things God works for good.

In the hardest of circumstances, God’s actions are always to help, heal, comfort and save. Bad things don’t change the constancy of God’s love.

Habakkuk said it well. “Though the fig tree does not bud and there are no grapes on the vines, though the olive crop fails and the fields produce no food, though there are no sheep in the pen and no cattle in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the Lord, I will be joyful in God my Savior” (Habakkuk 3:17-18).

There was a real chance of starvation for people who went through the tough times Habakkuk was describing.

But nothing, not even the worst of things, negated God’s goodness, and he could look God’s way for strength and salvation.

Second, I don’t believe we’re required to be thankful for bad things.

Years ago, I listened to a talk by a female missionary who had experienced appalling assaults in central Africa when her compound was overrun by rebels.

She described her own experience and the equally dreadful things that had happened to others.

She could not give thanks that she’d been raped, nor did she believe she was meant to.

The Bible does not mandate thankfulness for evil. We can be grateful that God has entrusted us with a dark experience.

And God can use anything, including the worst of things, to strengthen us and help us serve others.

But God doesn’t require me to twist my mind or spirit in knots by pretending bad is actually good.

Third, I recognize this world is not my ultimate home.

This is earth, not heaven. It’s far from perfect. Where we live for now is a broken world. There will be sickness and wickedness, accidents and disaster.

One day, there will be no more tears, death, mourning, crying or pain (Revelation 21:4). But not yet.

For now, I wrap up warm, put my head down, brush the snowflakes off and face life with its mix of the good and bad things.

Ahead will be tough days and fun days, and each will give opportunities to live out the life and work I am privileged to have. Nothing will stop me fulfilling everything God has called me to do.

In other words, even with struggles, this is a good life, so in all its circumstances I really can give thanks (1 Thessalonians 5:18).

Alistair Brown is the president of Northern Seminary in Lombard, Illinois. A version of this article first appeared on his blog and is used with permission.

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